The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Monday, February 29, 2016

What I’m Reading: Shine On

It’s not every day that I’m reading a book and suddenly up pops a mention of me, right there on the page. But that’s exactly what happened while I was reading Claire Cook’s “Shine On: How to Grow Awesome Instead of Old”! You see, the amazing Claire – whom I discovered last year at an Atlanta Writers Club meeting – included a number of descriptions in her book of the women who’ve attended her reinvention workshop and posted their own reinvention stories on Facebook. I mentioned this blog and my journey toward reinventing myself as a writer, and wow! It actually made it into the book. The greatest part about it is that I had completely forgotten about posting it on Facebook until I saw it on the page: what a lovely surprise! And how exciting to think that my story might be able to inspire other women just as Claire’s inspired me.

But don’t get me wrong: even if I hadn’t gotten a mention, I still would have loved “Shine On.” And if you’re not familiar with Claire’s nonfiction books, you should check them out immediately – they are smashing. Both “Never Too Late” and “Shine On” are targeted at the midlife – or “40 to forever” – age group that I’m just barely old enough to be part of, as I tiptoe toward my 41st birthday. (Or maybe I should sashay instead of tiptoe; I bet Claire would like that!) While “Never Too Late” is mostly about finding your dream, that elusive “thing” that we all have that lights us up, and committing to making it come true, “Shine On” takes a broader perspective, encouraging women to take control of all the various facets of life, including work, health, and personal style, that can tend to slip as we age. Her theory is that it’s not tending to these things that makes us look and feel “old.” And so “Shine On” is full of inspiration of the life-changing nature, but also practical advice on everything from exercise balls to eyebrow maintenance. Once you read it, you’ll hear Claire’s friendly, bubbly and down-to-earth voice in your head egging you on whenever you decide to do something awesome: like purchasing a gorgeous scarf because it looks great with your coloring, finally cleaning out your closet or cleaning up your diet, or just taking some time for yourself during a hectic day.

If you've read “Shine On,” did it inspire you to do anything differently in your daily life? Did you get any cool ideas from the women that are mentioned in the book? Or maybe you're one of them, too! Let me know in a comment!

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 20 – The Final Price, part 2

As Ellidyr charges toward the cauldron, Morgant draws his sword and commands his guards: “Slay him! Keep him from the cauldron!” Taran, Doli, and Flewddur rush out of the tent, and unarmed, Taran tries to wrestle Morgant’s sword away from him. Morgant throws Taran to the ground. Ellidyr gets stabbed in the side by one of Morgant’s guards, but manages to break free and – despite Taran shouting “No! Ellidyr! Save yourself!” – he throws himself into the cauldron.

The cauldron shudders, then cracks and shatters into pieces around Ellidyr’s lifeless body. Then, lots of things happen very quickly. King Smoit rides into the clearing, along with Gwydion, Coll, and Gwystyl, with Kaw on his shoulder. There's a battle between Smoit’s and Morgant’s warriors, and Smoit kills Morgant. Taran bends over Ellidyr, grief-stricken, and murmurs that the black beast is now gone from him. Then Islimach, frenzied from the loss of her master, runs headlong right off the edge of a cliff. Do horses really commit suicide? I’m never certain whether all the animals in Prydain are supposed to be a little magical (like Kaw, who is clearly more intelligent than your average crow), or if this is based on actual reported animal behavior. Regardless, it’s sad.

The dust settles from the battle. Gwydion says he regrets not finding Taran sooner, and that King Smoit’s impatience saved the day, since he grew restless and came after Gwydion and Coll. He tells Taran that the destruction of the cauldron was one of the worst defeats ever for Arawn, but that he knows the price Taran paid. Taran says that Ellidyr deserves all of the honor, and Gwydion says they will raise a barrow over him along with Islimach. So, they’re going to drag the horse up from the bottom of the ravine? Or bring Ellidyr to the bottom? Either way, I’m not sure this is the best plan. Probably best not to overthink it. They’ll also build barrows for Smoit’s dead warriors, and one for Morgant. Taran is surprised that Morgant would get an honorable burial, considering what he's done. But Gwydion believes in looking at someone’s whole track record, and says Morgant was a brave companion who saved him in battle in the past. So he’ll honor Morgant “for what he used to be, and Ellidyr Prince of Pen-Llarcau for what he became.” And do Morgant’s slain warriors get barrows too? Sounds like no? OK, then.

Eilonwy’s been busy, first healing Gurgi and then finding Taran’s sword, which she returns to him. Taran is greeted by Fflewddur and Doli, then Coll, and then Smoit. Finally, Gwystyl comes up doing his morose act, and Taran is like, don’t try to fool me again, Gwystyl. Gwystyl says that Taran can have Kaw as a gift in thanks from the Fair Folk for helping to destroy the cauldron. Kaw says “Taran!” and Gwystyl warns not to listen to anything he says. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

They raise the barrows, and then ride into the Ystrad Valley. Gwydion is headed to King Math to give a report of what happens, and says Taran must go tell Dallben. I’m like, wouldn’t Dallben already know, from Hen Wen or just his own psychic connection to the witches via The Book of Three? Taran is philosophical, saying he couldn’t wait to enter the world of men, but now he sees how cruel and sad it can be. Gwydion says that is true, but there are “equal parts of love and joy. Think of Adaon and believe this.” He reminds Taran how awesome his friends are, that they would have each given up what was most precious to them, and Taran realizes that the brooch never really belonged to him after all, though he is grateful he had the brief chance to feel what it must be like to be a hero. Gwydion says that Taran chose to be a hero not through enchantment but through taking “the risks of a man.” He bids him farewell and calls him friend. And with that, Taran, Gurgi, and Eilonwy head home for some Caer Dallben and chill. The end!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 19 – The War Lord – and Chapter 20 – The Final Price, part 1

Morgant’s warriors tie up Taran and his companions, knocking Gurgi unconscious when he tries to fight. They even put a gag on Eilonwy after she accuses Morgant of being a traitor and a liar. Taran warns Morgant that if he kills them, he’ll have to answer to Gwydion. Morgant says he fears no man, now that he has the Black Cauldron. He plans to use it to become even more powerful than Arawn. “Power such as this was offered once to Gwydion,” he says, but Gwydion refused it. I’m guessing he’s referring to Achren’s tempting of Gwydion at Spiral Castle, though I’m not sure how Morgant would know about that. Anyway, Morgant pretty much re-enacts that scene, playing the part of Achren with Taran in the role of Gwydion. He says that if Taran swears allegiance to him now, he will make Taran his war lord, and together they will be the most powerful men in Prydain.

Taran does not seem even remotely tempted by this offer, calling Morgant an evil traitor. Morgant threatens to make Taran into a Cauldron-Born, and Taran dares him to “Cast me in it now, even as I live!” Morgant scoffs that he knows the secret of the Crochan, but he respects Taran’s boldness for trying to trick him. (I feel he should also mention Taran’s bravery, knowing that Taran would be willingly giving his own life if Morgant had taken the bait – but Morgant doesn’t mention this, probably because his brand of self-promoting evil doesn’t recognize the nobility of such a sacrifice.) Morgant gives Taran a choice: take his offer to join the dark side, or watch all his friends be slain and fed to the cauldron before him. “Who will it devour before you cry a halt… the bard?... the shabby creature that serves you?... the young Princess?” Holy crap, that’s dark. Then Morgant exits the tent with a swish of his black cloak. Did I mention that he’s eeeeevil?

Fflewddur sort of wishes he’d let Orddu turn him into a toad. Eilonwy works the gag out of her mouth and says she’ll make Morgant rue the day he decided to make his own Cauldron-Born. Taran says that none of them will be sacrificed on his account. He will accept Morgant’s offer so that they can gain time; an oath made under threat of death will not be binding. Eilonwy says that Morgant will undoubtedly kill them all anyway, once Taran is under his thumb. The companions struggle to get out of their bonds. Gurgi is still out cold, but Ellidyr regains consciousness. He apologizes to the companions for getting them into this mess. But, he says, he “stole the cauldron out of pride, not evil.” He only planned to return it to Caer Dallben to be destroyed; he would never have used it himself. Taran believes him. He asks if Ellidyr has enough strength to break his bonds and free the others. Ellidyr tries, but is too depleted from his wounds.

Just then, Taran feels unseen hands pulling at him, and hears a grumpy voice tell him to stop struggling. It’s Doli! He’s never stayed invisible so long at one stretch, and pops into sight complaining of his ears buzzing. He says he’s been following Ellidyr on foot, ever since he escaped the Huntsmen and his pony – “dratted beast, we never liked each other” – ran off. He unties all the companions, then asks Taran if he should free Ellidyr, considering what he’s done. Taran says yes. Once freed, Ellidyr says even though he has lost his strength, he can still be of service, and dashes out of the tent. It's such a climactic moment, I'm marveling the chapter doesn't end here, given Alexander's propensity for cliffhangers. I'll end this post, though, and be back next week to wrap up recapping The Black Cauldron!